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In recent times, one of the strangest aspects of war, American-style, has been the inability of the most powerful military on the planet to extricate itself from any of the conflicts it's initiated or somehow gotten itself involved in -- even those it's officially walked away from.  Like the sirens in The Odyssey, such conflicts seem to beckon Washington alluringly until it finds itself once again on the shoals of hell.  Iraq is, of course, exhibit A.  The United States is now, in effect, in the fourth iteration of war there.  In the first, now largely forgotten, it backed autocrat Saddam Hussein in his disastrous 1980 invasion of Iran and the eight-year-war that followed, actively offering help, for instance, in targeting Iranian forces even when he was using chemical weaponry against them.  In 1991 came Desert Storm, Bush-the-father’s campaign against Saddam. Victory parades followed that “triumph.”  In 2003, there was Bush-the-son’s invasion, the “decapitation” of Saddam’s regime, and the disastrous occupation that followed.  In 2014 -- we’re now up to four wars and counting -- President Obama reentered the fray, this time against that creature of our previous wars in Iraq, the Islamic State and its “caliphate,” a conflict now without an end in sight.

Washington’s first Afghan War began, of course, in 1979 with the urge to give the Soviet Union its “Vietnam.”  When the U.S. finally ended that massive CIA-directed effort in support of extreme fundamentalist Islamic groups, Russia had indeed experienced its own “bleeding wound,” the Red army had been defeated, the Soviet Union had finally imploded, and in triumph the U.S. turned from Afghanistan forever... or at least until October 2001 when it invaded, decimated the Taliban, and “liberated” the country. Almost 15 years later, its war there continues and, despite announced drawdowns and withdrawals, things are reportedly going terribly with (according to Pentagon sources) possibly decades still to go.

In Somalia, a first American intervention ended disastrously in 1993 in the event that is remembered here as “Blackhawk Down,” after which the U.S. left, never to... whoops, it just conducted air strikes and special ops raids there in a conflict that now seems to be ramping up again.  Or how about Libya?  There, the U.S. had for years tried with intermittent lack of success to “decapitate” its autocratic ruler, Muammar Gaddafi.  This ended in 2011 with an air intervention during which he was killed and the country “liberated” and turned into a democratic... whoops, the country actually collapsed into sets of warring militias and governments; Gaddafi’s extensive arsenals were looted and the weaponry sent to terror groups and others across the region; the Islamic State gained a major foothold in the country; and U.S. operations are once again on the rise with the promise of more to come.

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In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. - Carl Sagan